Questions and Answers About Rabies
What is rabies? Rabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system.
What animals may be affected by rabies? All mammals (warm-blooded, furry animals) can be affected by the rabies virus, but it occurs most often among wildlife species such as bats, raccoons, skunks, and foxes. Unvaccinated dogs, cats, and livestock also may get rabies. Rabbits, squirrels, opossums, rats, mice, guinea pigs, gerbils, hamsters, chipmunks, and muskrats almost never get rabies.
Do birds or snakes get rabies? No. Birds, fish, snakes, turtles, lizards, and insects do not get rabies.
How do people become exposed to rabies? Since the rabies virus lives in the saliva of the rabid animal, a bite is the most common way the disease is spread. People may also become exposed to rabies by being scratched by a rabid animal or when the saliva gets into an open wound in the skin or into the eyes, nose, or mouth.
Can I get rabies by being near a rabid animal or where the rabid animal has just been (for example, a bat in a room, or a raccoon in a backyard, barn, or chimney)? No. Exposure to rabies occurs by being scratched, bitten, or by having saliva come into contact with an open wound in the skin or with eyes, nose, or mouth. Just being in the vicinity of the animal does not result in exposure. Always avoid touching wild animals, especially if they are acting strangely.
Can I get rabies by handling or touch my dog or cat that has been in a fight with a raccoon? If you do not handle, pet, touch, or examine your dog or cat within 2 hours following the fight, there is no danger of getting rabies. If you do handle your pet within 2 hours of a fight, be sure to thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water, and then contact your doctor or local health department for advice. Wear gloves to transport your pet to the vet.
What are the symptoms of rabies in an animal? Symptoms of rabies vary widely from animal to animal. In any animal, the first sign of rabies is usually a change in behavior. The animal becomes either unnaturally withdrawn or unnaturally approachable. In the furious form, the animal is excited, aggressive, irritable, and may snap at anything in its path. It loses all caution and fear of natural enemies. If the animal has the "dumb" form of the disease, it may appear unusually tame, affectionate, and friendly. Staggering, paralysis, and frothing at the mouth are sometimes noticed. Many animals have a change in the sound of their voice.
What should I do if I think my dog, cat, or farm animal has rabies? Consult a veterinarian and report to the local health department if a person has been bitten or exposed to the suspect animal. Be sure to keep the animal confined and away from people until it can be examined by a veterinarian.
What should I do if I see a stray dog, cat, or wild animal that I think may have rabies? Do not feed, pet, or handle any stray or wild animal, and keep your own animals from coming into contact with it. Contact your local animal control agency.
What should I do if I find a dead animal on my property? If there has been human or animal exposure, contact your local health department for instructions. If there has been no human or animal exposure, the animal may be buried. If it is necessary to touch the animal, gloves should be worn. An easy way to handle the animal is to place your hand into a large garbage bag, grab the animal by a hind leg through the bag, and pull the bag over the animal and tie it shut. Bury the animal at least three feet deep or dispose of it through the local animal control agency. Do not throw it out along a road or in the woods or a field.
How can I protect my dog or cat against the threat of rabies? All dogs and cats should be vaccinated against rabies by a veterinarian. Maryland law requires all dogs and cats over 4 months of age to be vaccinated against rabies. Dogs and cats should also be confined to your home or yard and walked on a leash to decrease their chances of being exposed to rabid animals. In certain localities, dogs are required by law to be controlled on a leash whenever they are off of their owner's property.
How long are rabies shots (vaccinations) for my dog or cat good? For dogs or cats the first shot is only good for one year. The next (second) shot is effective for one or three years, depending on the vaccine used. The rabies certificate should give the expiration date of your dog's or cat's shot.
What is the earliest age I can begin to have my dog or cat vaccinated against rabies? Three months of age. Twelve months later, a second shot must be given to complete the primary vaccination series.
Will it hurt to vaccinate my dog or cat more often than required, such as every year, even though the rabies vaccination is good for three years? Although not necessary, it should not harm your animal.
What other animals can be vaccinated against rabies? There are no rabies vaccines approved for any wildlife species (such as raccoons, skunks, and foxes). Your veterinarian has vaccines that are approved for use in horses, cows, and sheep.
What should I do if my dog, cat, or farm animal has been exposed to a wild animal that I think may have rabies? Call your local animal control agency for help. If your animal has killed the wild animal, your animal control agency can provide information about bringing the specimen in for rabies testing. Do not handle the animal without gloves and try not to damage the head.
If the wild animal is positive for rabies, what should I do with my dog, cat, or farm animal? If a dog, cat, or farm animal has a current rabies vaccination, the animal must be boostered immediately by a veterinarian and restricted for 45 days. If the animal has no current rabies vaccination, or if the vaccination is not up to date, you must either destroy your animal or hold it in strict isolation (quarantine) for 6 months in a manner approved by the local health department. Farm animal exposures are managed by the Department of Agriculture.
What should I do if I am bitten, scratched or exposed to an animal?
1. Immediately wash the wound with plenty of soap and water, scrubbing the bitten area gently.
2. Obtain the owner's name, address, and telephone number.
3. Get prompt medical attention. Call your family doctor or go to the nearest emergency room.
4. Report the incident to your animal control agency.